Say That Again
Hoo boy. We've criticized a bunch of Senator Josh Hawley's nonsense over the past few months. After all, he's the elite cosmopolitan "get big government out of business" Senator who is railing against elite cosmopolitans, while demanding that government get deeply involved in regulating companies. Well, not all companies. Just tech companies. It's almost as if Hawley is deliberately picking on companies that he thinks don't like his insane brand of politics. Anyway, while Hawley has introduced a slew of nonsensical bills targeting internet companies, the most laughable was the one that literally lays out what features certain websites can and cannot use. As we wrote in our post about it, Hawley seems to want to appoint himself the product manager of the internet.
Saagar Enjeti, a reporter for The Hill, recently sat down with Hawley, and Enjeti has posted some highlights from the interview. It's kind of scary that this guy is a sitting US Senator, as almost everything he talks about, he demonstrates an astounding, almost comical, level of ignorance or a clearly superficial understanding. But, hilariously, Enjeti actually asks him specifically to respond to my criticism that he's trying to appoint himself the product manager for the internet. Hawley's response is... not good.
5/ A @techdirt columnist accused @HawleyMO of wanting to be the product manager of the internet with his proposals to ban infinite scroll, 30 min restrictions, among other things.
His counter: https://t.co/XGmKCIGbGc pic.twitter.com/Su8g3X0ayj
— Saagar Enjeti (@esaagar) September 17, 2019
Let's write out the transcript here, because it is unbelievable. It's so unbelievable that I don't even think Hawley understands what his own bill says, and I'm almost wondering if he's commenting about a different bill, introduced in the other part of Congress.
Enjeti: So I also want to talk about your SMART Act. It's probably the most criticized foray of yours within the Big Tech debate. Among other things, you've proposed banning infinite scroll, autoplay, limiting users to 30 minutes a day. A Techdirt columnist said you want to appoint yourself "product manager of the internet." What would your counter to that be?
Hawley: My counter is that parents ought to be in control of raising their children, not big tech. So parents ought to have tools and options and support. So take the thing limiting 30 minutes for apps usage. I mean parents can change that. It's a default setting. But it gives control to parents to say, "look, these tech companies whose entire business model is focused on getting my kids addicted and then stealing, essentially, their information, and then turning around and selling it, it's time to stop that."
It's time to give parents control. To say, look, if I'm comfortable with my kids online, fine, that's the parents' choice, and the kids' choice. But it shouldn't be big tech's choice. Big tech shouldn't be raising our children. Infinite scroll and autoplay. These are technologies, quote unquote, that Big Tech has developed, in concert with psychologists, to try to get us -- and, again, especially kids and teenagers -- addicted to their platforms. Why should they be able to do that without scrutiny? Why shouldn't we give parents the ability to say "no"? It ought to be a choice, but the choice and the power of the choice ought to be in the hands of the family. Not in the hands of some Google executive.
First of all, none of this makes any sense at all. Parents already have that control. Not tech companies. Parents can block their kids from using certain services or apps or can use any number of the fairly long list of third party services to help control how much their kids use these services or their devices. Isn't that the free market at work, Senator Hawley? Second, Hawley's bill doesn't actually do anything that he suggests above.
The word "parent" doesn't even appear in the bill at all. Regarding the 30 minute limit, the bill says nothing about parents, but does say that any social media platform has to default to a limit of 30 minutes per day for all users, and while it does allow those users to alter the limit, it resets every month, and Hawley's bill requires the services to continue to nag users. It doesn't say that the ability to change the limit should be for parents changing things for their kids. Indeed, how hard would it be for kids to change the settings?
The same is true of the ban on autoplay and infinite scroll. Those are listed as "prohibited practices" -- not "tools for parents to help their kids." Yes, it does say that services can offer a way for users to "opt-in" to both, but says this can be accomplished by "pushing a button." Does Senator Hawley think that kids can't push buttons?
Also, we won't even get into how wrong he is to argue these companies are either "stealing their information" or "turning around and selling it" (though, Senator Hawley, if they're selling it, can you tell us where to buy it? Because it's not actually happening. But, damn, you could really prove your point if you went out and bought that "stolen" information that you insist is for sale), but it seems worth pointing out that Hawley exempts autoplay ads from his autoplay ban. If he were really concerned about the privacy implications and the data implications of these services, then, um, wouldn't that include ads? But, nope, Hawley's all happy to let these companies continue autoplay if it's for making money.
And, while I'd normally say this goes without saying, it appears to need saying based on Hawley's own confused comments: how the hell is a bill that has the government "make choices" for you an example of "giving more choices" to parents?
Honestly, so much of Hawley's description of his own bill actually sounds like he's talking about an entirely different (but still dumb) bill, the one that was introduced by Rep. Goasar in the House, and which would require companies to offer content moderation tools for end users. That one, you could credibly argue, is about putting more control in the hands of end users (parents or not...).
But, really, all we're left with here is a Senator who doesn't seem to understand how technology works, what his own bill says or does, what it means for "big government" to meddle in private businesses, or, really, anything. How is this guy in a position of power?
Filed Under: big tech, choice, infinite scroll, josh hawley, parents, product manager, think of the childrenCompanies: amazon, facebook, google